What happens when 3000 young people, 500 educators and a community of parents work together to create an ecosystem of wellbeing and social innovation?
This is what happened at St Francis Xavier College in Australia, in 2018, when they became the first school to host a whole school, 21-day benefit mindset challenge. This challenge invited the whole school community to practice small acts of wellbeing leadership (such as express gratitude, an act of kindness or a creative collaboration), every day, for 21-days straight. The only catch with the challenge was that every day, the action taken must be something new.
Head of House, Nadia Liu said “It was lovely to see the growth of the students throughout the process, where the acts of kindness began as small, to more thoughtful, where students began to make a conscious effort to go out of their way for others.”
“For example, Aimee began her challenge by smiling at people throughout the day and ended up extending her kindness beyond school, returning a phone to a lady at the shops who had left it on the bench accidentally and walked away.”
“We had students bringing their actions home and extending their kindness to their families, many helping more with daily chores but some students, like Trinity, who said she made a conscious effort to tell her brothers that she loved them.”
“Each Care Group put their own spin on the challenge” for example “Mr Cookson’s care Group who set upon, what they called Mr Cookson’s Quest to make the world a better place.”
“I truly believe the challenge has had a positive impact on the students in my house as well as the rest of our school.”
Head of House Amy Mazzitelli saw inspiring acts from her students during the challenge. “It is definitely challenging both students and care group teachers but I can see that, every day, another student really takes the challenge on board and it was nice to see them celebrating all the good they are doing for others.”
Overall, what we found was that in the first week people acted in familiar ways that weren’t too disruptive and outside of their comfort zone. In the second week, the actions became harder as everyone was challenged to try new things. By the final week, we started to see signs of creative innovation, as everyone was challenged to discover new capacities and latent potential they didn’t know they had within them.
Creating an upward spiral
“Not only is it the case that happy people are more willing to help others, but as I generally point out, helping others is the best way to help yourself, the best way to promote your own happiness. It is you, yourself, who will receive the benefit.” — Dalai Lama
This simple activity can lead to surprising and even transformative results. For example, the cumulative effect of taking small actions alongside one another creates an upward spiral of wellbeing. You feel good, others feel good, and everyone becomes more courageous and creative. This challenge saw approximately 70,000+ acts of everyday leadership shared over the 21 days. As you can imagine, that created a profound, elevating shared experience.
Embracing our everyday leadership choice moments
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall
Another focus of this challenge was to facilitate conversations about what it means for everyone in the school community to not only see themselves as learners, but also see themselves as leaders in everyday life. For example; the willingness to express universal values — the willingness to be kind — the willingness to care for the environment — are acts of everyday leadership. We all know how to express values, be kind and care for the environment to some degree. However, choosing to wholeheartedly express these qualities in everyday life, requires us to make a leadership decision.
The purpose of education: Becoming yourself so you can contribute to society
“Everyone deserves an education that is about their own development as a human being. The purpose of education — is for me to become me — in the context of the society that I live, so I can truly contribute to my society.” — Peter Senge
Finally, this activity was designed to support everyone within the school community with stepping into their unique potential as a human being. By regularly disrupting our routines in life affirming ways, we can subtly yet powerfully build new positive habits that can transform our capacity to contribute to our world.
Want to bring the 21-day challenge to your school?
You can run the challenge yourself by following our guide. Otherwise, get in touch and let’s work together! We think this is one of the most powerful interventions a school can host to build community and create a culture of wellbeing.
Special thanks to Joanne Alford and Jack Greig for making this challenge possible. This challenge was inspired by kindspring.org, who run a range of 21-day challenges including a kindness challenge, a gratitude challenge, an eco-footprint challenge and more.